MPs have been ringing up to order camp beds to sleep inside the Palace of Westminster. The lobby press are gearing up for some late-night filibustering and voting that have not been seen at Westminster for a generation. The second reading of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that will repeal the European Communities Act of 1972 – which enshrined all EU law as being superior to UK law – was due to take place this Thursday, with the vote next Monday.
The phrase “historic vote” has been used frequently in the last two years: over Brexit, triggering Article 50 and others. But Monday’s vote is in many ways the most important as it will consign to the bin of history all EU legislation and will be the first step towards Britain reclaiming its national sovereignty, as was clearly voted for by 85 per cent of the electorate in this year’s general election.
If you examine the democratic numbers, it’s astonishing that the Remain camp – typified by Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer in a recent Observer article that argued for an indefinite transitional period to leave the single market – believe that history and democracy are on their side. Their logic simply doesn’t add up. Starmer and his fellow pessimists seem to have already forgotten that 500 MPs walked through the lobbies to vote in favour of the Article 50 Act. The referendum itself was legitimised through an Act of Parliament in the Commons, and then you have to include the more than 17 million UK electors who voted to leave.
The Withdrawal Bill marks a return to our self-reliance as a free and democratic nation built over 400 years, re-establishing our right to govern ourselves through our own general elections. No wonder that many Tory MPs are furious that, despite the failure of Project Fear, and despite the clear democratic mandate that Theresa May and her government have to push through the Withdrawal Bill, there is a poisonous mood of uncertainty and division within not just the Commons but also the Tory party itself.
Yes, David Davis has been going on to The Andrew Marr Show to calm nerves and Boris Johnson has been doing the rounds to assure grassroots Tories and other Leavers that he is, of course, 100 per cent behind May. But as one senior MP told me before the new “term” started this week, “The party mood is very fragile. There are echoes of 1972 and 1975.”
The mood is so heavy with threats and intrigue that the Prime Minister’s closest aides have sent missives and cautionary warnings to pro-EU Conservative politicians basically instructing them to vote for the first reading of the Brexit Withdrawal Bill – or else. It is has been reported that as many as a dozen Tory MPs are considering voting against the Bill.
Although one of the chief Tory rebels, Anna Soubry, has said that she believes all Tory MPs will back the second reading of the Bill, she has made it clear that she fully intends to “scrutinise” the Bill on its way through the Commons. She has said that the May Government’s “macho” approach to Brexit should not stop Conservative backbenchers from tabling amendments to the crucial Bill.
Soubry insists that “there’s nothing weird … about putting down amendments … It’s called democracy.” No doubt she was referring to the Maastricht rebellion that I helped lead back in the early 1990s. But that was all about trying to save British democracy from being overruled in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats.
We now have a political climate where the word “democracy” means whatever each side wants it to mean. Of course few MPs can remember those divisive and turbulent days, but at least back in 1975 there was clarity which followed the democratic referendum vote. No one seriously suggested back then that the vote should be re-run or that it didn’t count. Today’s “reversers” – led by the likes of Starmer, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson – like to argue that what they want is “certainty”, but it is their very own actions and rhetoric that is putting the entire British democratic process in doubt.
The Labour front bench – no doubt with some Remain Tories – are apparently now calling for an open-ended period to leave the single market and customs union. But this is a Trojan horse designed to stop, and reverse, Brexit. It tears up the democratic verdict of the referendum and the House of Commons. It reverses Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment that we will leave both the single market and customs union. So, on Monday September 11, there is a clear choice: does the official Opposition back the people and it own voting record in Parliament or does it create uncertainty and chaos?
The British people did not vote to belong to an EU that is driving towards greater, undemocratic political integration and EU taxation, all within Germany’s gravitational sphere of influence and domination and decided by consensus behind closed doors. Remainers have an obligation to explain themselves. In any case, many EU member states do not want us half in and half out – they have enough internal problems.
Repealing the European Communities Act is the first step to allowing us to pass our own laws at Westminster, with our own borders and our own Immigration Bill and “fair not free” movement of people and protection from terrorism with our own human rights laws. No more undemocratic EU legislation behind closed doors, unlike the House of Commons which publishes our speeches and votes. No more European Court of Justice from 2019, with or without transition. No more unnecessary regulation for the City and business.
This is what the British people voted to escape from and what Keir Starmer and his fellow travellers would lead us back into.
Sir Bill Cash is the Conservative MP for Stone and was chairman of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee